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Game on: Southern league out to revitalise Under 19 competition

The old VFA played with 16 players per side for many years. The Southern league is going back to the future as it tries to boost its Under 19 competition.

Moorabbin Kingston Leader March 2, 2020 1:00pm Eager to revitalise its Under 19 competition, the Southern Football Netball League is introducing 16-a-side football in 2020.Numbers have fluctuated since Southern brought back the under-age section in 2008, but last season only seven teams took the field.League officials are hoping to double that number this year and teams will go in with 16 players rather than 18. The SFNL is also abolishing affiliation fees for the Under 19 teams in an effort to encourage clubs to field them.SFNL CEO Lee Hartman said the league saw the Under 19 competition as vital to its future.

He said all football leagues needed young players coming through the ranks and Southern had to try things to get the section going.“We just think if we make it 16 per side with a minimum of 12 to play a game, it could make clubs think, ‘Oh, we can do this’,’’ Hartman said.“It’s been coming for a while, because of the declining numbers over the last three years.“Two years ago we had 10 teams and last year we dipped to seven, so we had a bit of a think-tank into how we could help the Under 19s and get these pathways up and running.

“We’ve identified there’s a real issue in the pathways for most of our clubs. “Some have their own juniors but a lot don’t. They’re trying to work with junior clubs. For the sustainability of our senior competition we need a pathway right through, so the 19s is the first step. And once we get the 19s to a certain point we can work closer with junior clubs that have 15s and 17s. Quite a few clubs in the South Metro juniors don’t have a senior club and a lot junior footballers stop playing when they’re 17.’’Aside from introducing the 16-a-side rule and scrapping fees, the league has also changed the starting time of games from 9.30am to 10am.

Teams with a full quota of 22 players will still be able to play 18 per side.“We want to have that flexibility on game day,’’ Hartman said.

He said 16-a-side football would suit the smaller SFNL grounds and should produce a faster and more open style of play.

Hartman said he could remember teams in the old VFA having 16 players “and it was good footy’’.“It encourages free-flowing football with lots of run,’’ he said.“Whether the coaches decide to take the wings out or play five forward and five back, that will be up to them.’’Hartman also said the league had put out feelers to the VAFA about the possibility of amateur clubs’ second or third Under 19 teams playing in Southern.

In other news Murrumbeena’s first women’s team will return to Southern after spending last year in the AFL South East competition

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